Thomas Alva Edison: Wizard of Menlo Park


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Samuel Edison discovered Menlo Park, which had been part of a failed residential development and in December Edison moved to Menlo Park, twelve miles south of Newark. The white, two-story laboratory building was completed on 25 March , and Edison moved in a few days later. The ground floor housed a machine shop with precision tools and a scientific and chemical laboratory were built on the second-floor.

It was a "state-of-the-art" industrial laboratory for , unparalleled in the United States. Edison was very happy in his new home. As he told a Philadelphia Times reporter,"I like it first-rate out here in the green country and can study, work and think. Supporting the Laboratory A year after building his laboratory, Edison needed more money to keep it operating.

Because most of his experimental work was on improving telegraph and telephone technology for Western Union, he wrote to company president William Orton to ask for help. Western Union agreed to pay for all patent expenses and to give him additional royalties for any successful inventions including the telephone. Funding from Western Union and then from Edison Speaking Phonograph allowed Edison to increase his staff from the original small group to 25 men by the spring of The new employees included four experimenters, a couple of general laboratory assistants, six machinists, a patternmaker, a general handyman, a watchman, a bookkeeper and a private secretary.

Over the next two years as Edison turned to research on electric lighting, Menlo Park became a true research and development laboratory. Between the fall of and the fall of , Edison added several experimenters and chemists, including two with German PhDs; a lamp-blower; a steam engineer; a draftsman; a couple of general laboratory workers and an office boy.

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Francis Upton, who had received the first Master of Science degree from Princeton and then gone on to do postgraduate work with Herman von Helmholtz in Berlin, was hired by Edison. With the shift from research to development of the electric light system in , the staff of experimenters and machinists expanded even more, reaching between 50 and 60 men at its peak. A few experimenters were hired because of their formal training as engineers, but most were ambitious young men attracted by the excitement surrounding Edison and his laboratory and they learned on the job.

Edison Electric also paid for new buildings at the laboratory. Edison built a new large brick machine shop and turned the old shop space in the main lab building into additional experimental space. He also built a two-story brick office and library. He stocked the library with about books and journal s using money he received from the sale of his telephone patents in Britain. He also had to build some smaller wooden buildings, including a carpenter shed, a blacksmith shop, and a carbon shed where kerosene lamps were kept constantly burning so that the carbon soot could be collected from the glass chimneys for experimenting.

After he began working on vacuum technology for his lamp, a small wooden house and workspace was built for the glassblower. In late , Edison added a boarding house for some of his workers. It was run by Sarah Jordan, Mary Edison's step-sister. Edison could rapidly construct, test and alter experimental devices, significantly increasing the rate at which he could develop new inventions. Using teams of researchers, he could work on different parts of a system or even different inventions at the same time.

It was this advantage that enabled Edison to invent an entire system of electric light and power and not just a light bulb. Edison himself flits about, first to one bench, then to another, examining here, instructing there; at one place drawing out new fancied designs, at another earnestly watching the progress of some experiment. Sometimes he hastily leaves the busy throng of workmen and for an hour or more is seen by no one.


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Where he is the general body of assistants do not know or ask, but his few principal men are aware that in a quiet corner upstairs in the old workshop, with a single light to dispel the darkness around, sits the inventor, with pencils and paper, drawing, figuring, pondering. In these moments he is rarely disturbed. If any important question of construction arises on which his advice is necessary the workmen wait.

Sometimes they wait for hours in idleness, but at the laboratory such idleness is considered far more profitable than any interference with the inventor while he is in the throes of invention. Francis Upton wrote his father about Edison's central role in the lab: "One thing is quite noticeable here that the work is only a few days behind Mr.

Edison, for when he was sick the shop was shut evenings as the work was wanting to keep the men busy. Once the workforce grew to around sixty employees, Edison could no longer afford the time or expense of keeping his staff idle while they waited for his directions. He learned to subdivide the work, assigning each detail of the system to a particular staff member or a team of researchers and machinists.

Although Edison provided initial guidance and suggestions on how to approach each problem, the experimenters were often allowed, and indeed encouraged, to find their own way to a solution.

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He later testified p. Edison sent me to his library and instructed me to read up on the subject of insulation, offering me the services of Dr.

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After two weeks search, I came out of the library with a list of materials which we might try. I was given carte blanche to order these materials. Within a few days, the master ticker tape machine had a major breakdown throwing the entire office and many New York businesses in turmoil. Since Edison was always around the office, he offered to fix the machine.

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Thomas Edison

Laws, Edison set up his own engineering business and was soon hired by Western Union to be in charge of all of their equipment. An awestruck Edison took the money and invested it in an empty factory building in Newark where he set up his first workshop. In , Edison, then twenty-four, fell in love with sixteen-year-old Mary Stilwell, who was one of his employees at the time.

He married her on Christmas day that same year. They had two other children after Marion, Thomas Alva Jr. By , Edison decided to move away from the city and into a larger space where he could expand his operations to include a large scale inventions workshop. During the same time, Alexander Graham Bell invented the first version of the telephone which created waves throughout the scientific and engineering communities.

Western Union commissioned Edison to improve upon the primitive telephone to put it into practical use. Menlo Park was one of the six neighborhoods that formed Raritan Township. It was a very sparsely populated rural area and the site of a failed residential development in the early s. Edison purchased two parcels of land measuring approximately 34 acres from the family of William Carman who was one of his employees at Newark, in late By the Spring of , Edison moved his operations to Menlo Park.

While Edison was working on perfecting the telephone, he started experimenting with the idea of being able to record the sound of the human voice. Edison did not linger over the success of his phonograph. He quickly moved on to other inventions. His next big breakthrough came when he invented a bamboo filament to create a successful incandescent lightbulb. Other people had been working on the making of light bulbs in the past, but none of the earlier bulbs was ever able to work for more than a few minutes.

The following bulbs lasted for 40 hours and Edison and his team worked hard to light the laboratory and his home with several of the new light bulbs for Christmas.

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By the summer of , Edison had perfected the incandescent bulb enough to be able to produce and sell it in large quantities. He remodeled the wooden building on the east side of the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks and Lincoln Highway to serve as a Lamp Factory. This was also a place where the entire team gathered for social events during their free time.

Edison established the Edison Electric Light Company and began working on using electricity for other purposes. When Edison had discovered copper ore deposits in the area he sank a shaft for his very own copper mine. The electric powered railway became a success in In the meantime, Edison continued to improve his earlier inventions and took them to the next level. In the summer of he began setting up a large generator plant at Pearl Street in downtown New York City.

He fitted all the office buildings and homes on Pearl Street with about four hundred of his incandescent bulbs.

On September 4, , hundreds of people gathered on Pearl Street to witness a never before seen spectacle; at 3 p. This was a huge success for Edison in proving his theory of a central generator station supplying power in bulk.

Thomas Alva Edison: Wizard of Menlo Park Thomas Alva Edison: Wizard of Menlo Park
Thomas Alva Edison: Wizard of Menlo Park Thomas Alva Edison: Wizard of Menlo Park
Thomas Alva Edison: Wizard of Menlo Park Thomas Alva Edison: Wizard of Menlo Park
Thomas Alva Edison: Wizard of Menlo Park Thomas Alva Edison: Wizard of Menlo Park
Thomas Alva Edison: Wizard of Menlo Park Thomas Alva Edison: Wizard of Menlo Park
Thomas Alva Edison: Wizard of Menlo Park Thomas Alva Edison: Wizard of Menlo Park
Thomas Alva Edison: Wizard of Menlo Park Thomas Alva Edison: Wizard of Menlo Park
Thomas Alva Edison: Wizard of Menlo Park Thomas Alva Edison: Wizard of Menlo Park
Thomas Alva Edison: Wizard of Menlo Park

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